Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the international threshold of “most serious crimes.” Media and human rights groups also documented numerous suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.
Following the January protests, according to a Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) report, at least two detainees died in detention–Sina Ghanbari in Evin Prison, and Vahid Heydari in the 12th Police Station in Arak. According to the report, the bodies of the detainees were quickly buried without an investigation or autopsy, and officials claimed the deaths were suicides. Witnesses reportedly saw evidence of a severe blow to Heydari’s skull, as though struck by an axe. The government made few attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during torture or other physical abuse, after denying detainees medical treatment, or during public demonstrations. In August Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported at least 30 persons had been killed in protests since January. HRW reported there was no indication that officials conducted impartial investigations into those deaths or, more broadly, into law enforcement officials’ use of excessive force to repress protests.
As noted by the late UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, and documented by international human rights observers, Revolutionary Courts continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences in the country, and trials lacked due process. Legal representation was denied during the investigation phase, and in most cases, no evidence other than confessions, often reportedly extracted through torture, was considered. Judges may also impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. According to the NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government does not disclose accurate numbers of those executed during a year, and as many as 60 percent of executions are kept secret.
The NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) reported there were 215 executions as of mid-November, while the government officially announced only 73 executions in that time period. For many of those executions, the government did not release further information, such as names, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.
The Islamic penal code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of majority. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced as minors as well as individuals accused of committing offenses that do not meet the international legal standard of “most serious crimes.” According to the former UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, 85 juvenile offenders were on death row as of June. The government executed at least five juvenile offenders during the year, including Abolfazi Chezani Sharahi, who was executed in June. Sharahi was arrested in 2013 at age 14 and sentenced to death for allegedly stabbing his friend. A CHRI report noted serious concerns with the handling of Sharahi’s case.
According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes. Prisoners are slowly lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. In addition, adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities have reportedly been ordered not to provide public information about stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.
Authorities continued to carry out executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes.” Although the majority of executions were reportedly for murder during the year, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.”
Prosecutors frequently used “waging war against God” as a capital offense against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences.
The overall number of executions decreased in comparison with 2017, reportedly as a result of an amendment passed in August 2017 by parliament to the 1997 Law to Combat Drugs to raise the threshold for the death penalty for drug-related offenses. The law went into effect in November 2017. Under the amended law, capital punishment applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. According to the previous law, capital punishment applied to similar offenses involving slightly more than 11 pounds of natural drugs or two-thirds of a pound of manufactured drugs. Capital punishment, however, still applies to drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics, if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or someone who has previously been convicted of drug crimes and given a prison sentence of more than 15 years.
In January Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani ordered judges to halt the death sentences of drug offenders potentially affected by this change to the law while their cases were reviewed. In July state media quoted Tehran’s Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi announcing that of the 3,000 requests the government had received from death-row prisoners and from those sentenced to life imprisonment, 1,700 sentences had been reviewed and most of those sentences had been reduced, while 1,300 cases remained to be reviewed.
Mohammad Salas, a Gonabadi Sufi bus driver, was executed by hanging at Rajai Shahr Prison on June 18. Salas was convicted of killing three police officers during clashes between members of the Gonabadi Sufi dervishes and security forces in Tehran in February. Salas and his supporters maintained his innocence throughout a trial that Amnesty International called “grossly unfair,” stating he had been tortured into a forced confession and that key defense witnesses who could have testified that Salas was already in custody at the time of the police officers’ deaths were dismissed.
International and national media reported on a terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, on September 22. According to reports, at least 29 military personnel and civilians were killed in the attack, with more than 70 wounded. A separatist group called the Ahwaz National Resistance, as well as the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attack.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes and offices, monitored telephone conversations and internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization. The government also detained the family members of activists as a form of intimidation and reprisal.
According to international human rights organizations, the government arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members based in Iran. Separately, the government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television.
Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, was arrested in September for publicly expressing his support for his detained wife, according to media reports.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”
Article 26 of the 2016 Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right freely to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication, but it has not been implemented.
The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.
Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.
The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and of insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.
Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or it did not renew them for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”
Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through IRIB, a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,100). Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.
Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.
Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.
Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that the government arrested an estimated 10 citizen-journalists for covering the nationwide protests that began in December 2017. According to RSF, several citizen journalists were beaten and arrested while recording renewed protests in Tehran on June 25-26. Authorities banned national and international media outlets from covering the demonstrations in an attempt to censor coverage of the protests and to intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them.
In February, RSF reported that several employees of the Sufi news website Majzooban Nor were arrested while covering clashes between security forces and Gonabadi Dervishes. Majzooban Nor was the only independent website covering the dervishes, and most of the arrested journalists were reportedly severely beaten by police and militia members. In July and August, Majzooban Norjournalists were sentenced for lashes and prison terms of up to 26 years in connection for their work covering the dervishes’ protests.
According to CHRI, in August the Mizan News Agency, which functions as the official news website of the judiciary, published statements that human rights activists interpreted as a call for vigilante violence against BBC journalists and their families. The BBC had filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Council in March against Iranian authorities for their campaign of harassment against BBC Persian staff.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.
In September media reported that General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered the closure of Sedayeh Eslahat, a reformist newspaper, on charges of insulting Shia Islam. According to reports, the newspaper had published an article on female-to-male sex reassignment surgery, titling the article, “Ruqayyah became Mahdi after 22 years.” Ruqayyah was the daughter of Hussein, a revered Shia Imam, while Mahdi, according to Shia beliefs, is the name of the 12th Shia Imam. Montazeri also called for the punishment of the newspaper’s editor.
Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. IRNA determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter, but not overthrow, the government are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government, in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.
The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The Supreme Leader’s Office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools is illegal.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material.
According to media reports, former minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi announced in 2017 that the government had improved methods to control the internet and had shut down a number of online platforms. The government’s decade-long project to build a National Information Network (NIN) resulted in its launch in 2016. The NIN enabled officials to allow higher speed and easier access on domestic traffic, while limiting international internet traffic. RSF reported that the NIN acted like an intranet system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities may disconnect this network from global internet content, and they reportedly intended to use it to provide government propaganda and disrupt circumvention tools. During nationwide protests in December 2017, authorities used NIN technology to cut off access to the global internet for 30 minutes.
Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities.
Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.
According to a report by CHRI, in May the Judiciary (the prosecutor of Branch 2 of the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office in Tehran) blocked the popular messaging app Telegram. Telegram, used by approximately half the population as a platform for a wide variety of personal, political, business, and cultural content, had become a primary internet platform. As a foreign-owned company with servers outside the country, Telegram was not under the control of national censors. Many officials blamed Telegram for the spread of protests in December 2017. After the ban on Telegram, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology began to disrupt access to circumvention tools used to access blocked applications or sites.
RSF reported that several bloggers and online journalists were arrested during the year for their expression. Blogger Hengameh Shahidi was arrested in May for tweets about her previous detention. Mohammad Hossien Hidari, the editor of the Dolat e Bahar news website, was arrested in May. His families and lawyers did not know what he had been charged with, and his website was inaccessible after his arrest. Amir Hossein Miresmaili, a journalist with the daily newspaper Jahan Sanat (Industry World), was sentenced to 10 years in prison on August 22 for a tweet criticizing a mullah in Mashhad. Miresmaili’s sentence also included a two-year ban on journalistic activity on social networks after his release from prison. According to his lawyer, Miresmaili was charged with “insulting the sacredness of Islam,” “insulting government agents and officials,” “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion,” and “publishing immoral articles contrary to public decency.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.
According to a July HRW report, following the protests of December 2017 and January 2018, intelligence officers arrested at least 150 students and courts sentenced 17 to prison terms. Many of the arrested students did not participate in the protests but were preemptively detained, according to reports. HRW reported that as of mid-July, revolutionary courts had sentenced at least eight student protesters from universities in Tehran and Tabriz to prison sentences of up to eight years. Some students were banned from membership in political parties or participating in media, including social media, for two years.
Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education. According to a HRANA report in September, more than 50 Bahai college applicants had been denied enrollment for their religious affiliation (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).
The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.
According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.
According to media reports, renowned film director Jafar Panahi was banned again from traveling to the 2018 Cannes film festival. Panahi has been barred from traveling since 2010, when he was charged with generating “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.
According to media reports in February, Benyamin Bahadori, a pop singer and composer, cancelled a concert in Kerman after female members of his music group were banned from appearing on stage. In April, according to media reports, the head of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Mashhad was arrested for undermining public decency and disrespecting laws when videos surfaced on social media networks showing young men and women dancing at a concert at a shopping center in the city.